Amherst Magazine

Sports

Derek Cherney '07

Fast and furious: Derek Cherney ’07

We all look for inspiration in our lives, fuel to motivate us toward our goals and aspirations, something to push us toward our highest level of achievement. Amherst College junior Derek Cherney found that fuel the hard way, but he has used it to become one of the elite lacrosse players in the nation. Along the way, he’s also managed to find a special place that he calls home.

A native of Chappaqua, N.Y., Cherney started his lacrosse career traveling to nearby Yorktown for a youth league in third grade. The traveling stopped a few years later, when his father took over the youth league in Chappaqua and improved the local program immensely. Even then Cherney valued his speed, saw it as his greatest attribute and worked to make himself even better. While other kids spent their time at recess playing football or basketball, Cherney was often found in a foot race with long-time friend Terence Higgins, who is now a member of the varsity lacrosse team at the U.S. Naval Academy. The pair lugged all of their lacrosse gear to school once or twice a week; when they hit the playground they would suit up and work on their stick skills. “People looked at us like we were crazy,” said Cherney. Many years later, it’s doubtful that anyone questions the pair’s sanity.

After his junior year of high school Cherney was denied the opportunity to play for the New York Empire Team, a regional all-star team selected to represent the Hudson Valley at the Empire State Games. The coaches decided Cherney was too small to make the squad, leaving him furious and determined never to be held back again. At just 5'4" and 140 pounds, Cherney worked vigorously in the off-season, adding 25 pounds to his growing frame and deciding that in order to prevent future disappointments he would have to pursue the highest possible goals for the rest of his career.

His success has been immeasurable. Before Amherst, he helped the Horace Greeley High School lacrosse team to its second straight sectional championship game as a senior— becoming the first team in school history to do so—and set a sectional record and tied the mark for second most goals scored in a game in state history, in a 10-goal, two-assist per­formance in a 16-15 sectional semifinal victory over John Jay High School. Cherney has not let his foot off the gas at Amherst. He earned Honorable Mention All-America honors in his first year, securing both New England and NESCAC Rookie of the Year plaudits as well. He was named Second-Team All-New England and First-Team All-NESCAC, finishing eighth in the conference in goals (28), ninth in points (43) and 13th in assists (15). Not letting down, he increased his success in his sophomore campaign, not only repeating as Honorable Mention All-America and First-Team All-NESCAC, but also adding Co-NESCAC Player of the Year and First-Team ECAC Division III New England All-Star plaudits to the resume. He ranked 20th in the nation in scoring (ppg), paced the conference in points (68) and goals (39), and tied for second in the NESCAC in assists (29). Ready to continue his rampant success, he has been named Second-Team Preseason All-America this spring and is set to defend his conference player of the year crown.

“All of my achievements can really be traced back to getting cut from that Empire team,” said Cherney. “It’s forced me to strive to be the best at all times, and spend a lot of time keeping that edge.”

Cherney also credits a lot of his success to being in the Amherst environment. “All through my collegiate recruiting and search for the right school I loved Amherst. My brother [Josh Cherney ’05] was here, and I liked the idea of a small school and being able to know everyone. I wanted to get a good education and continue my lacrosse career, and Amherst was a great fit for both.” His closeness with his brother and the relationship he built with Amherst Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Tom Carmean sealed the deal for Cherney, and he committed to attending in the fall of 2003.

“I’d love to say that I immediately recognized all of Derek’s talents and abilities from day one, but the truth is that I didn’t,” said Carmean. “He was originally on our list because of his brother, and I thought he was a pretty good player, but he hadn’t really developed yet.”

After his tremendous final year of high school play, Carmean saw further potential in Cherney and told him before the season that with hard work he could be one of the top players in the NESCAC. Not sure of his new coach’s confidence, Cherney pushed on, and the results were seen shortly into his rookie campaign. After leading the Jeffs in scoring in four of their first five games, including a five-goal, one-assist breakout performance in a rain-soaked 7-6 win over conference foe Bates College, he was again reassured he was in the right place. Even more impressive to the fans, Cherney slipped in one of the more amazing goals in recent Amherst memory, as he caught the ball in front of the cage, began to slip on the drenched turf and flung the ball behind his head and past the baffled Bobcat goalkeeper.

Not only a success on the field, Cherney has truly devoted himself to getting the best possible experience from Amherst. A political science major, he is taking full advantage of the educational opportunities Amherst has to offer. “I chose political science because it not only provides me with the advantages of a liberal arts education, but also keeps me in tune with a number of current events in the world,” Cherney said. He also has become heavily involved with Amherst’s Difference for Developmentally Disabled (3D) program. After actively participating in the program for the last two years, Cherney has become the co-director of the group along with classmate Erik Lund ’07, a member of the Jeffs’ varsity ice hockey team. “Derek shows his care for the kids through his actions,” said Lund. “He’s always getting kids involved, starting games, bringing in a positive attitude and, most importantly, leading them to grow every week mentally and physically.”

However, Cherney’s love for Amherst was put to the test this summer as he was confronted with the opportunity to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams—to play top-level Division I lacrosse. He has spent the last two summers playing in the Sound Shore Lacrosse League, a high-level summer lacrosse league made up primarily of current Division I players and former collegiate stars in Westchester County. With constant pushing and encouragement from his peers through both summers, Cherney decided to explore the option of transferring from Amherst. In contacting a small pool of programs, Cherney got the biggest bite from Georgetown University, a perennial top-tier team. Before he really knew what happened, he had been accepted to Georgetown and began to seriously entertain the idea of enrolling there. In one hand he had a life-long dream that was becoming a reality, while in the other sat a place that he had loved and treasured for two years, a group of wonderful friends and teammates, and a wealth of lacrosse success. Deciding between the two became complete agony, and he found himself very unhappy. It was then that he began to think of the happiness and great times he’d had at Amherst, and the decision became clear. “I decided that my dream to play Division I lacrosse wasn’t worth giving up everything else,” Cherney said. “I still have a lot of goals at Amherst that I haven’t accomplished yet, both on the field and in the classroom, and I wanted to return to my friends, coaches and teammates to achieve them. I couldn’t be happier with my choice.”

Now beginning practice in the start of what could be an amazing junior season, Cherney and his teammates have set the bar high. With their sights set on a few key games in the season and the eventual prize of a NESCAC Championship, he and fellow quad-captains Kevin Boova’06, Andrew Wilcox ’06 and Sean Murray ’06 aren’t ready to settle for less. “Derek is a terrific on-field leader,” said Carmean. “His absolutely extraordinary will to do whatever he can to help his team win makes him invaluable to our team.”

Cherney has his own plans for the season as well. “I really want to discipline myself and focus on my on-field attitude and body language,” he said. “I want to stay positive and upbeat at all times, letting my teammates feed off me and keep the excitement level up. If I do that stuff and continue to work hard, I think my game will just work itself out.”

More comfortable and happy in his surroundings than he has ever been, Cherney is truly a huge asset to Amherst. Completely committed to the classroom, the lacrosse field and the community, there’s no telling where the fire that fuels him will lead.

—Tanner D Lipsett
Amherst Sports Information Director